Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow review by Mike Long

While I was watching Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow to review it, my wife looked up from her book and said, "Is this movie still on?" That sentiment perfectly sums up this movie. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow began life as a six-minute short, and probably would have fared better if it had remained in that truncated form.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is set in the late 1930s. Reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) has been investigating the disappearance of prominent scientists. The plot thickens when she is contacted by a scientist who claims to have further information about the story. Their meeting is abruptly interrupted when the city is attacked by giant flying robots, who seemed determined to steal electrical generators. The day is saved when flying ace Joe Sullivan (Jude Law) AKA Sky Captain zooms in and fights off the robots. Joe and Polly, who have a history, meet and discuss the situation. Working together, and with the help of Joe's colleague, Dex (Giovanni Ribisi), they track the origin of the robots and begin a journey around the globe to learn who is kidnapping the world's greatest scientists and to learn the origin of the giant machines which attacked the city. This journey will introduce Joe and Polly to a world of mechanical nightmares and a plot to destroy the Earth.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow should receive a special Academy Award for its ambitious special effects and technical achievements, but it should get a Razzie for story and script. In case you aren't aware of how Sky Captain was created, the actors were shot on a green-screen background with a bare minimum of props and sets. Then, the sets were computer generated and composited with the actors. Also, the film was shot in black & white and was later given color using computers. Using this process, writer/director Kerry Conran is able to insert the characters into any situation and location, no matter how fantastic. Also, he is able to fill the movie with amazing creations, such as the flying robots, and the other numerous machines which appear in the film. The look of the film is very lush and it has a genuine 3-D feel.

However, the jaw-dropping effects in the film and the wonderful machines can't make up for the fact that the film has no heart and comes off as quite cold and sterile. With the time-frame, story, and look of the film, Conran is trying to evoke a nostalgic feeling for the serials of the '30s. However, the movie simply feels like a modern technological creation. The film wants to be very big and broad, but there is actually very little story in the movie and next-to-no character development. In short, events occur simply to motivate Joe and Polly to move on to their next destination and meet their next challenge. And, as noted above, at 106 minutes, the movie is far too long. One would think that the sheer cost of a project such as this would warrant a shorter running time, but apparently that wasn't the case. By the time that Joe and Polly learn the secret of the plot behind the robots, it is difficult to care at all. Law does do a good job of playing an "everyhero", but all Paltrow does is roll her eyes. If that's acting, then my wife deserves an Oscar. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow represents the cutting edge of technology and proves that basically an entire live-action movie can be created inside of a computer. But, it also shows that entertaining films must have a human touch, and the story in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is sorely lacking one.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow flies onto DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has hit DVD in two separate releases, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks fantastic, as it is free from grain and defects from the source material. (I do not know if this is a completely digital transfer.) The picture is very sharp (and intentionally soft at times) and has a nice amount of depth. This colorized film is quite dark at times, but never so much that we miss any of the action. The disc carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which brings us clear dialogue and sound effects. The movie has a great sound design. The swooping airplanes and flying robots fill the surround channels and when the robots lands and march through the streets, the subwoofer effects are top-notch.

The Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow carries a nice assortment of extra features. We begin with two audio commentaries. The first is from producer Jon Avnet. Avnet's talk is rarely scene-specific, as he basically describes how the film came about, how it was financed, and how it was made. His talk is informative, but it's rarely inspirational, as he drones on and on. The second commentary, featuring writer/director Kerry Conran, production designer Kevin Conran, animation supervisor Steve Yamamoto and visual effects supervisor Darin Hollings isn't much better, as they often leave large silent gaps as the quartet describes how certain shots were done. We learn much more about the making of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow in "Brave New World", a "making of" featurette which has been divided into two parts. "Chapter 1" (28 minutes) focuses on the origins of the film and relates how it was conceived and how the short was turned into a feature film. "Chapter 2" (23 minutes) examines the post-production process, emphasizing the "low-budget" nature of the film (ie: second-hand computers, cramped working space). Both Chapters contain a ton of behind-the-scenes footage, both from the actual filming of the actors and of the filmmakers working with the computers. There are many comments from the cast and crew. "The Art of The World of Tomorrow" (8 minutes) features Kevin Conran discussing the look of the film and showing off lots of concept art. "The Original Six-Minute Short" is included here, and is letterboxed at 1.85:1. It's amazing how much of it survived in the finished film. The extras are rounded out by two "Deleted Scenes" which run about 5 minutes and a 3-minute "Gag Reel".

5 out of 10 Jackasses

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